Alexandra Lange | Essays

More! Women! Architects!

Is this paragraph a form of apology for that ridiculous Zaha Hadid profile?

A lot of attention — in Chicago, at least — has been given to the fact that Aqua is the tallest building in the world designed by a woman. That’s nice for [Jeanne] Gang, but beside the point, and dwelling on it leads too easily to predictable interpretations of skyscrapers as symbols of male identity. Gang’s achievement has more to do with freeing us from such silliness. Her building is most compelling as an example of architecture that is practical and affordable enough to please real-estate developers and stirring enough to please critics. Not many buildings like that get made at any height, or by architects of either gender.

In Wave Effect, in this week’s New Yorker, Paul Goldberger goes on to say:

In this sense, Gang could not be more different from Zaha Hadid, who is the most famous female architect around. Hadid is a brilliant shaper of form, but her buildings are nothing if not arbitrary, and the combination of her fame and her flamboyant designs has insidiously led people to assume that female architects tend to favor shape-making over problem-solving. In fact, there are plenty of women who have built successful architectural practices by selling themselves not as divas but as purveyors of reason who also happen to be able to make beautiful things. In New York, Deborah Berke, a fifty-five-year-old architect and professor at Yale, directs a firm that has designed hotels, art galleries, academic buildings, houses, and the high-profile 48 Bond Street condominium. (Berke’s Web site describes her work as “simple, not simplistic; elegant, not extravagant; luxurious, not lavish.”) In San Francisco, Cathy Simon founded a firm, SMWM — until a recent merger, it was among the largest women-owned firms in the country — that numbers the restored San Francisco Ferry Building and the San Francisco Public Library among its projects. Marianne McKenna (the “M” in the big Toronto firm KPMB) just finished an acclaimed concert hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, in Toronto, and has been in charge of a new downtown university campus in Montreal. Denise Scott Brown, of the Philadelphia firm Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, has been a dominant force in the field of planning and urban design for more than a generation.

Either way, it is exciting to see Jeanne Gang in the New Yorker. I wrote about Gang for 02138 in 2006, when the Aqua project was only a rendering, and I was impressed with her thoughtfulness, talent and approach to the profession. She seemed totally beyond such silliness. Also in the works back then was the Brick Weave House pictured above, a recent cover story in Dwell, that showcases her cleverness with materials in a completely different way.

Posted in: Architecture, Theory + Criticism

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